While not everyone experiences anxiety, it’s likely that stress will affect everyone at some point in their lives. In the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual Stress in America report, which was just released, it was found that people who are part of Gen Z (ages 15 to 21) reported the worst mental health of all generations that participated in the study.
Among the most common stressors identified were heavily covered news topics, including gun violence, sexual assault, suicide rates, and migrant family separation, as well as everyday stressors like money. Reacting to difficult experiences or negative news by feeling stressed is a common and valid experience, and learning how to manage it can make a positive difference in your life.
To find out how to identify stress and work through it, Teen Vogue spoke with experts on mental health.
How to identify stress
Stress is defined as a state of “mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” It can manifest as being unable to concentrate, experiencing headaches, having sweaty palms or feet, worrying excessively, feeling irritable, or having a rapid heart rate, among other things.
Recognizing stress at a lower level before it triggers larger symptoms is the best way to prevent it from getting worse, says psychologist Ashley Hampton.
At the end of the day, you can identify stress because it tends to be a short-lived response to something and not a feeling that overstays its welcome, according to psychologist Sari Chait
What are the different types of stress?
The important thing to know is that every person experiences stress differently, so how it manifests for someone else might not be how your own symptoms will manifest. And even though stress can often feel negative, it can sometimes be a good thing. There are multiple kinds of stress, including eustress, situational stress, and chronic stress.
Eustress is a beneficial type of stress that’s generally caused by events that might make you nervous, like an audition, speaking in front of a class, performing at an event, or even talking to someone you like. This kind of stress gives you the adrenaline you need to find your courage or perform well.
Situational stress is a reaction to a circumstance you’re experiencing, and it might come up each time you experience the specific situation. It often manifests as small physical symptoms, like feeling your heart pounding, shortness of breath, or sweaty palms, and it goes away shortly after the situation is over. Usually, we call this nervousness.
Chronic stress can be harder to identify because it’s always there, according to art therapist Jodi Rose, who says it’s ultimately the kind of stress that can lead to more extreme physical symptoms or anxiety. It can feel overwhelming to the point that you’re not in control. Ultimately, it can result in emotional exhaustion, which can look like intense mood swings, frequent crying spells, numbness, sadness, anger, or pervasive negative feelings, according to therapist Katie Krimer.
Any kind of stress can manifest psychosomatically, meaning that it expresses itself as physical sickness. Prolonged stress can lead to shoulder and back muscles issues, or holding your breath without realizing it, which can cause tension in your chest.
How can you manage stress?
Trying different tools to find what works for you is important, since what works for someone else might not be helpful to you. Making art, journaling, practicing yoga (or another physical activity that balances out your heart rate and calms your mind), practicing mindfulness, or taking a walk are a few ways to alleviate or cope with stress, according to the experts who spoke with Teen Vogue.
“Depending on the stressor, going into action mode can help some people. For example, if an upcoming exam is stressing you out, diving into studying and preparing for the exam can actually help decrease the associated stress,” says Chait. However, some people need distractions from stress instead of actively confronting the stressor, which is okay too.
Especially with recent news stories causing a great deal of stress for many people, taking a break from the news and from social media can make you feel better and more in control, says Chait.
Krimer says that self-talk might also help you cope with stress. Self-talk is exactly what it sounds like — telling yourself that it’s okay, that you’re having scary or stressful thoughts, and then talking to the thoughts. You can say, “Hi thoughts! Nice to see you … please come again another time.” Doing something like this is an active way to gently acknowledge stressful thoughts and help you to let them go.
Telling a few close friends about your struggles can also be a great way to let go of stress. Asking friends for support can actually decrease stigma as well as isolation. “Don’t be fooled by the illusion that you’re the only one who isn’t ‘chill,’” says psychologist Anna Kress. Many people struggle with stress, and remembering you’re not alone might also alleviate some tension.
If you start to suspect that anxiety is interrupting your life, seeing a medical professional like a doctor or therapist is a constructive way to stay on top of your mental health and feel like you’re in control.
What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?
Although stress is a common and valid emotion, feeling stressed is not the same thing as feeling anxious or having clinical anxiety. When you’re stressed, it’s still possible to generally move through life as usual, even though you might be in a heightened state. More intense reactions to situations could lead to panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
Stress tends to go away more quickly than anxiety. However, when left unchecked, stress may turn into anxiety and other mental illnesses, which is one reason why learning how to manage it so necessary.
“Not managing stress properly can lead to an anxiety disorder,” says therapist Amanda Petrik-Gardner, who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. “A true anxiety disorder, whether that be generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety, means an individual’s anxiety impacts their functioning; their anxiety causes impairment in school, work, or relationships.”
Because stress, when ignored, can lead to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, or physical illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or stress ulcers, talking about what you’re experiencing and reaching out to people may help you feel more in control and better able to manage your stress.
Written by Elly Belle | TeenVogue